I starting dance classes when I was six. I took tap, jazz, modern dance, and ballet classes. I even studied pointe (classical ballet with the pointe shoes).
Then I taught classes for about 6 years after being an assistant teacher for 2 years. I spent countless Thursdays and Saturdays in the studio with cute ballerinas and I loved every minute of it.
The truth is I still LOVE dance, but I feared that I knew too much; that I’d become an overly critical dance mom!
Having been a dance instructor, my inclination is to trust the teacher and trust the process. But there must be a process…
I’m that mom who is more concerned about the technique and what the teacher’s philosophy is on teaching ballet basics, than fighting with the teacher to put my daughter front and center.
So, when Sunshine begged and pleaded to take ballet I reluctantly acquiesced.
I had many conversations with myself (yes, I talk to myself, so do you!!) and my sister (a former dance teacher also) about lowering my expectations of the class/instructor, just in case it wasn’t up to my standards.
I tried…I really did!
First Ballet School:
Sunshine started ballet lessons at a local community ballet school at age 3. At the start of the semester, a young teenage teacher replaced the permanent instructor who left on sabbatical.
I reserved judgment.
Once upon a time, I too was a teenage dance teacher. I was familiar with the glaring eyes of parents questioning my competency as an instructor…at least until the first parent observation time, when they saw what I had taught their child.
Unfortunately, Sunshine’s teenage instructor earned the glaring eyes of parents.
She had no control of the class. She allowed the class to take a ten-minute water break in a 30-minute class ten minutes into the start of the class. Oh, and the parent observation time (several weeks into the semester) was a hot mess of cute dancers hopping across the room in no semblance of order and demonstration of any level of ballet knowledge.
Needless to say, we left that school.
Second Ballet School:
The second school was referred to us by friends. This new school had a large community following and many people talked highly about the school and gave the school great reviews. The school had a company class of high school students who were their premier dancers. These dancers attended this school for years. They were a representation of the quality of dancer the school produces! Additionally, a company class conveys a level of commitment and dedication to the art of dance.
I wanted this school to meet my expectations.
Tips on Choosing Ballet Classes for Kids
RED FLAG #1: Dancers expected to learn new choreography and new music in only 7 classes.
Sunshine started classes in September. By the Spring, I could see that she was learning some ballet moves, but not the fundamentals. Nevertheless, I talked myself out of being overly critical.
Then in April we learned that the girls would be learning a brand-new ballet routine to music they had never heard before, for the recital the first Saturday in June. Which means the dancers had 7 weeks to learn new music and choreography. (Who Does That??)
The dancers were 3, 4 and 5 year-olds, at varying developmental levels. Some of them have never danced before or been on a stage. No way should the dancers be expected to learn new choreography (including placement on stage) and new music with only 7 weeks until the recital. That’s simply not enough time for them to perform the ballet well or independently.
The instructor should have been teaching foundational ballet moves since September. Those foundational moves should have been incorporated into the choreography, making it easy for the dancers to learn the choreography when put to music. Then the only thing the dancers would have to deal with is learning their placement on the stage (performing in a room with mirrors versus on a stage with an audience is vastly different) and getting over any stage fright!
Our dancers were set up to fail!
RED FLAG #2: No counts to choreography.
I asked the teacher to provide a sample of the music and to write out the choreography so that I could work with Sunshine at home. I was going to make sure she knew the ballet routine.
The teacher wrote out the routine one week, then changed the routine the next.
Ok that happens.
We began practicing the new routine, but the steps didn’t go with the music. The teacher didn’t add any counts, you know 8-count or 16-count steps to go along with the song.
We had no way to discern what steps went with what portion of the music. (Who Does That??)
The art of creating choreography is not easy, and if you are writing choreography for others to perform, your choreography should be based on a count, a cadence in the music or words in the song.
Otherwise, no one will know how to perform the choreography!
RED FLAG #3: Choreography changes at rehearsal.
Then came the rehearsal. It was obvious that the teacher nor the students knew their placement on stage or the routine. It also becomes clear that the choreography was different than what the teacher provided (and what Sunshine and I practiced), which meant the teacher either changed it AGAIN or simply didn’t remember it.
When I raised my concerns to the teacher she said the recital would be fun for the dancers and that the girls would be adorable. (WTH?)
You know what…my daughter could have had fun and been adorable for a lot less than $70/mo for 9 months ($630.00), plus the cost of a $50 costume.
It was no surprise that Sunshine’s class’ routine the day of the recital was a HOT MESS (and it was not the only one)!
Neither school ensured that the teacher selected to instruct the dancers, had the skills necessary to control the class and impart proper ballet techniques.
Learn from my experience…avoid schools like these!
What You Should Look for in a Ballet School
1. Longevity in the industry
Ideally, the ballet school has been in business for many years and has great reviews. (This alone would not have helped in my decision of the second school.) If that is not the case, you are relying on the reputation of the instructor/owner of the school. That is ok. Just do your research.
- The school/owner/instructor should have a dance history that you can verify on social media. You are particularly interested in the instructors’ dance education, personal dance performances, and teaching experience. If possible, talk to other dancers.
- You also want to ensure that the teacher assigned to teach your child has taught children your child’s age for several years. Teaching ballet to a 3-year-old is completely different than teaching an 11-year-old.
- If possible, ask to see a copy of last years’ recital or if the recital is upcoming do your best to attend. Schools put on their best work at recitals, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether what you see is worth your money. (If I had done this for either school, I would have never registered my daughter.)
When you speak with the school administration, owner and instructor listen carefully to the words they use regarding class instructions. If you have a 3 or 4-year-old and they say your child will be introduced to “expressionist movement” or “creative movement,” ask exactly what does that mean?
A good response: ….it means your child will learn pre-ballet techniques and the foundational principles of ballet including the 5 positions of the body and feet in ballet.
3. Appropriate End of the Year Expectations
Ask what you should expect at the end of the year.
A good response: Your child should be able to demonstrate increased focus, appropriate posture, breathing techniques, and knowledge of the ballet positions; these techniques will be evident in the year-end recital.
4. Fun Factor
Having fun when learning ballet should be a priority. The instructor should not be so strict that they do not appreciate that your child is a child and that their enjoyment of ballet is what keeps them coming week after week. It is imperative that the joy and excitement for ballet are not squelched by the desire to create perfect little ballerinas.
As for me and Sunshine, we finally found a school that is the right fit for both of us! This school has all the perquisites mentioned above.
I’m even happy to say that the instructor teaches her students just like how I taught years ago. She’s firm with her students, imparting technique yet still having loads of fun!
I’m sure we’ll be here for a while.
L.C. is a self-described Jesus girl. She lives in North Carolina with her two children, a 5yo daughter, and a 19yo son. L.C. created her blog, ALifeofAuthenticity.com to be a forum for single moms to find community and solidarity in the challenges of single motherhood, a place to be uplifted and empowered to strive for the authentic and abundant life YOU seek. L.C. offers practical truths with her Christian faith as the backdrop upon which she offers real talk, real advice for real life.